As much as it’s tempting to say that it is United’s title to lose, a nagging feeling of attempting to tempt fate, in the process, stops one just short. Arsenal’s come from behind against Bolton keeps them within touching distance and Chelsea today could cut our lead to five. But nothing, or no one, could argue against us being thoroughly deserving of retaining the title at this stage.
Aston Villa are having a torrid time playing us, it would seem, from recent history, and yesterday was no different. Another four-goal rout this season against Villa is sure to set Martin O’Neill counting the number of people he may have wronged in life.
Sir Alex picked a side that seemed very reasonable to me; especially the front two. The Villa game, last time, really saw the Tevez-Rooney partnership explode on the world stage, and with defence not necessarily being Villa’s strong point, such a pair was not too bad a choice. However, it must be said, with our vastly thin forward line there really was no other choice but to play the best two. Otherwise, it was the same side that took us to the title last season — apart from the absence of EVDS, whose groin has become rather irksome lately. The formation had the all important element of experience and Fergie knew more than anyone else, how important it was to go about with the one-game-at-a-time routine. Sure, he might have had one eye on Europe and the Romans, but not at the cost of throwing away something that’s already within United’s grasp — the Premier League.
While United’s thumping of the ‘dippers last week was overshadowed by the sending off of an insanely high Mascherano, the football was not boring in the slightest. Yesterday, however, they kicked it up a few notches and the 4-0 scoreline was an understatement to the chances the players created. The most telling, and hence encouraging, aspect of our performance was the maturity and desire the lads showed to win. Much has been made of the youth of the Gunners, but our side is no AC Milan either; there is little average age difference between us and Le Arse.
And at the forefront of the desire to succeed was our flag bearer of the season, a player who has assumed talismanic status in United’s ranks. Cristiano Ronaldo bagged goal number 26 in the Premier League and goal number 35 for the season. But much more than the record was the goal itself which took the cake. A deft back heel, side-on in the midst of a crowded area was as audacious as it was exquisite. But it also needed a level of composure — and crucially, the confidence — to attempt it.
Another flick later on took everyone by surprise and on that video evidence, no decent defence could have done much. There were questions if he actually meant that but, at the moment, Ronaldo is playing like a man possessed, and even his good friend Rooney could only smile when the question — on his flick-on — was put to him by the BBC reporter. May Ronaldo continue to bring joy to our hearts.
Now, now, it’s a team game and it would be unfair to end this with another encomium to Ronaldo. And, I assure you, there were other players, worthy of praise, in the side yesterday. One of them was Rooney. Now he’s been frustrating in front of goal in the second half of this season and, if you think about it, he’s had a broken foot, and a training equipment inflicted stress fracture to get back from. However, his finishing in front of goal has made a lot of people question his selection in the team. Your humble reporter being the eternal optimist (and perhaps, a fool to some eyes) had an element of faith in him and today was a day to feel happy. Sure, he did miss a couple of straightforward chances, and hence was frustrating, but United is so much better off with Rooney on the pitch than off it and the sooner we realise that the better it is for us to appreciate him. Now a target man, he may not be, and he could work on his finishing, but he could still be looking at his best years ahead of him. Great show from him today and the brace (and perhaps, his composure or positioning notwithstanding, he could have bagged a hat-trick) was well deserved. The relief on his face after bagging his first, and the players’ reaction to his goal was heartening to see.
And our midfield had another day to revel in. Scholes and Carrick had another day to just knock the ball around. Carrick is having an exceedingly good second half to the season and it’s not just the odd good game he’s had. We have been playing very well with him on the pitch. I think the purchase of Hargreaves and the surprise package, in the form of Anderson, may have initially rattled him. But it’s this precise competition for places in midfield that has kicked him out of his comfort zone and has got him to turn in performances that are in line with his repertoire.
While Sir Alex conceded, after the match, that niggles had forced his hand in his substitutions — along with the soggy pitch conditions — he conceded that, hopefully, the players should all be fit for Roma; the withdrawal of personnel being more precautionary.
Anderson did come on as a sub and demonstrated the energy and depth within the squad. As Ahmed pointed out in the comments, if he does work on his shooting and have a little more composure on the ball, we may have stumbled across a powerhouse of a midfielder.
All said and done, the realists will still tell you that there are six more games to go. We have Boro next, and we must win that before playing Arsenal (H), Blackburn (A) and Chelsea (A). It wouldn’t occupy too much thought to work out that those three games will basically decide the title. Meanwhile we have the small issue of Roma in midweek. So let’s rejoice in what was another treat for the eye, and hope for the best.
Yes, also, watch the Match of the day link before someone takes it off. Then watch it all over again.
Life’s good, at the moment. Fingers crossed.
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